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Social Inclusion

Social Inclusion with Travis Davis

Social Inclusion with Travis Davis

“If I had a dollar for every time a student asked to play with my crutches, I would be a millionaire.  It I had a dollar for every time a student asked about my disability, I’d be dirt poor.”

Travis Davis is a native New Mexican, who was born with cerebral palsy. With support from friends and family, he overcome the odds of adversity and received two college degrees. In 2015, he gave a TEDx Talk on social inclusion in education. The message was about the importance of having the courage to ask questions about a person’s disability and strategies for how to do just that. Over the years, Travis realized that his disability can be used for good. His professional experiences include years in independent schools as an educator, the YMCA, and a non-profit that serves kids and teens with physical disabilities. In his free time, Travis enjoys writing, volunteering, and playing wheelchair basketball.

LinkedIn: Travis Davis

Website: www.travisdavis.net

TEDx Talk: “Include Me: Social Inclusion in Education”

Listen to the podcast here:

Read Along as Karla and Travis Discuss Social Inclusion

Karla Nelson:  And welcome to the people catalyst podcast, Travis Davis.

Travis Davis:  Hey Karla. So great to be here. Thank you so much for having me on.

Karla Nelson:  Of course, we’d love to have you on the show, and you are all the way in New Mexico. One very beautiful state in the United States of America here.

Travis Davis:  Yeah. It’s, it’s getting the temperatures are getting up there right now and definitely feeling that summer weather. It’s a great time to be outside and to be here in the, in the desert.

Karla Nelson:  Yep. Yep. I’ve been there a couple times. Never spent too much time there, but Albuquerque is absolutely beautiful. And I’m really excited to talk with you because this is such a unique podcast, I think. And I think we’re going to jump into spaces that, you know, that maybe are uncomfortable, right? It’s easy to talk about how to create an online program or do your online marketing or how to build a strategic cross-reference relationships or, you know, joint ventures, all these different things financing, right?

Because business has a lot of things. We talk about that, but at the end of the day on the people catalyst podcast, our motto is in business and in life and life relationships are everything. So we’re going to talk about social inclusion in how, uh, Travis here is going to chat and share his story about his background and his disability and how it’s empowered him to build these incredible relationships and put his dent on the universe. So, with that, tell us a little bit about your history, Travis, and it’s, you know, quasi entrepreneurial. So you are a teacher, but you have built and worked with a lot of, uh, organizations and nonprofit organizations and you have a TEDx talk and, uh, around this social inclusion, but what was your kind of path to doing that?

Travis Davis:  Yeah, that’s, that’s a loaded question. So, I was born with cerebral palsy. It’s uh, it’s a birth, it’s a birth defect. And basically what it is is my, when I was born, there was a lack of oxygen in my brain, so that I would say the nerves in my brain, they don’t fire at the same time with the nerves in my legs. And there was damage with that lack of oxygen. So, uh, when somebody gets diagnosed with cerebral palsy, uh, it can, it can affect them various ways. It could, uh, affect their speech or it could affect maybe the left side of their body or the right side of their body or even their whole body. And in that case, somebody most likely would be using a, uh, a power wheelchair. In my case, it just affected the lower parts of my body, just my legs and using crutches and a walker and a wheelchair. Um, as I grew up, made it possible for me to have that mobility outside the house. And I lived a pretty, pretty normal life, uh, growing up in school, I wasn’t in any type of special education. Um, and when I, when I graduated high school and I went to a community college for a couple years, I went to Chico state for a semester.

And then later on, I graduated from Azusa Pacific university. I went to, I went after that semester, I went to, uh, as it was Azusa Pacific university. And that’s kinda where the beginning of my disability advocacy happens. I remember meeting three, uh, three, three friends now, um, at the time I didn’t know who they were. I was sitting in with a friend of mine eating lunch, and these three girls came to the table. They were friends of his. And as we were talking, I was sharing my, my story and my background. And wasn’t thinking anything of it the next day, the day, it could have been the day after the, I heard, I heard a knock on my apartment door and it was those three girls and they were so moved, their words, not mine. They were so moved by what I had to say. Uh, they wrote down a bunch of ideas about how they wanted to help and especially make an impact on the campus that they wanted to start, um, a disability group on campus. And we did

Karla Nelson:  Well. You’ve got to share with us, what did you say in that conversation to have three strangers come the next day? Now you’re friends, of course. But at the time you had just met them at lunch, what did you, what was that like? What were the, did you enable them to be able to ask questions or encouraged them to ask you questions so that you could answer them about your disability?

Travis Davis:  Yeah, that was, it was definitely one of the weirdest experiences that I’ve ever had. Um, I’m sure that there was some hesitation on their end because you know, they’re coming to, uh, somebody’s apartment that they really don’t know, and they know added onto the fact that this person has a disability and they want to do something around my disability when they really don’t know much about my disability. So, it was just all these different layers. And I think that was their way of wanting to learn more about who I was. So, it kind of broke the ice. I normally don’t have a problem talking about my disability, especially if somebody wants to go from like zero to a hundred with like, you know, what your disability, um, I’ll talk about it with pretty much anybody that doesn’t how they go about it. Does it really bother me?

Karla Nelson:  Well, and I think that’s really cool because that really speaks Travis to the social inclusion aspect. And I think there’s this quasi judgment slash offense pro thing that we just it’s the elephant in under the carpet that nobody really wants to like talk about because they don’t want to be judged because they might be curious about it and you don’t want to offend anybody. Right. And so, I really think that’s super cool that you were able to look at that and break that down and be able to build these relationships with people that you’ve just met.

Travis Davis:  Yeah. Like I said, it was, it was kind of weird at first, but as I started to get to know them more and to kind of see how things were progressing, I felt a lot more comfortable with the direction In, you know, that was like my first time being any being in any type of leadership role. So, I, you know, it was more of a collaboration rather than me being this quote unquote leader or

Karla Nelson:  Cool is that though you open up, right? You guys have this great relationship, they’re curious, and they want to help and support. You have other people then create this awareness, you start an organization and, you know, you’re collaborating and going back and forth to figure out how you can break down when just the day before you said, I want to make an impact here. I mean, that’s super cool. I mean, think about that in so many different areas, right. That you could do that in been in business and personal relationships and just, um, I just think there’s so many applications to this too, because you might have a physical right. Um, disability, but you know, I know you talk about in your TEDx talk, uh, depression, anxiety, bipolar, you know, these are all disabilities that people have and it’s like, well, if you’re not willing to have the conversation, how the heck could you break down these walls to have people get help and build relationships around that?

Travis Davis:  Exactly. And, you know, as I had continued on with, um, you know, this group, I had mentioned earlier that I graduated, or I went to Chico state for a semester and the, the university that I went to had a chapel requirement because it was faith-based. So when I was leaving chapel one, one day in I’m in my wheelchair and I had my Chico state sweatshirt on and I passed by this gentleman and he stopped me and noticed the sweatshirt and was saying that he went to Chico States and he coached track and field there. And he was an RA there. And, you know, I was like, Ugh, that’s really cool. I didn’t know who this person was. And it turned out that he was the, uh, the Dean of students.

Karla Nelson:  Funny how a Sweatshirt can bring people together. It’s like seeing somebody from your hometown. Right.

Travis Davis:  And he was the, uh, he was the Dean of students. And so, I was just kind of taken back, uh, back. And from there, we, you know, we started again another relationship and that led to more, um, more momentum behind the group because he had some experience.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, the Dean of Students might be a good person from Chico state to know and building an organization, I would say, well, share with us another story that you had in your TEDx talk, which was about this student, right. That was curious about your disability. And he actually went out there in and said, so you said something like if you had a penny for every time, a student asked to play with your crutches, you’d be a millionaire. But how many times they’d asked you about your ability disability you’d be dirt poor. I thought that was pretty interesting because kids are just naturally curious beings, right? I mean, everything is a cure. They’re, they’re interested in so many things. Can you share that story with us that have it? Cause I think that’s really powerful that, you know, one, one kiddo stepping out in and asking the question then enables that social inclusion to happen. And I think it’s, it’s interesting cause there’s, we call it social inclusion because we want to, I think put the disability in a box, but really truly it’s on both sides because both sides are not being as effective at building these relationships because of both sides of this social inclusion aspect. Right. So, can you share with us that story of that, uh, that child in your, in your classroom?

Travis Davis:  Sure. Yeah. Um, I think it was my first year substitute teaching. It was the school that I, the high school that I graduated from, it was a, it’s a high school and a middle school combined. And I want to say that I was maybe a month or two in, and by the way, when I started substitute teaching, I was, I was really terrified. Um, I remember before, uh, you know, before even substitute teaching, being in public and like going to like a Walmart or Target or a place where there’s maybe a lot of little kids where they would just kind of stare and just maybe ask their parents, like, you know, what’s wrong with that? You know, that

Karla Nelson:  Yeah, we’ve all been there with the little kid who asked somebody a question. Right.

Travis Davis:  And so, when I started subbing, I was this little terrified, like, what kind of reaction are these middle schoolers? You know, what are they going to say to me? Like, how am I going to go about, uh, talking about subjects that they get brought up? So, uh, I’m studying, it was though I feel a long term Sabine assignment for English and I was in the middle of a lesson and I, I saw a hand get raised and the student, he just flattened ask, like, why do you use crutches? Something to effect a, why do you use crutches,

Karla Nelson:  Not putting you on the spot at all Travis. You’re like having to have the conversation with the kids. And then he asked you it in front of all the kids, right?

Travis Davis:  Yeah.

Karla Nelson:  That’s called on the job training. Kids will give it to you every time.

Travis Davis:  And, you know, thankfully I guess I don’t, I don’t, um, exert this sort of, uh, intimidating personality. So, you know, students are able to just ask me questions. Um, so I had to stop for a second. Uh, it seemed longer in my head.

Karla Nelson:  Yeah. It was probably a couple of seconds, but it felt like you’re like, uh, uh, I’ve been in situations before where you’re just, your brain is just thinking a thousand things, right? How do you manage this scenario? But what’s interesting is this was right up your alley of where you wanted to build this awareness. So how interesting, you know, you ask for something and this, this kid, uh, this middle-schooler, he gives it to you. And what do you say?

Travis Davis:  Well, I had to make a decision, you know, do I continue with the lesson? Do I just kind of stop and talk it? And, you know, I decided to stop and talk about it.

Karla Nelson:  They were like on every word that you said,

Travis Davis:  Yeah, the, you know, what they were, I think they were a little shocked by the student’s sort of boldness. And I, you know, just took up, you know, I think it was like 10 minutes. And just to talk to them about how my disability impacts me. And I remember shortly after that, I talked to, um, one of the administrators in the middle school department and he is a really good, he’s a really good friend of mine now. Um, and him and I had built a real good relationship back then and I told him about the story. And then I said, you know, Hey, do you think that I could, um, talk to more students about this? And he’s like, yeah, sure. So, every, every morning the school has, they get to the upper school and then the middle school together, jointly and separately. But in this instance, it was separately, and they get together every morning and share announcements or give a talk to start the morning. So, I was able to talk to them one morning. And the first thing I said to them was like, uh, how many of you have ever been curious about my disability, but were afraid to ask me and pretty much, I think like three fourths of their hands were raised.

Karla Nelson:  And the other people never raised their hand anyway, Travis. So, it was probably almost 100%.

Travis Davis:  Right. And yes. And it was, I, I don’t know why I felt shocked. Um, I guess I didn’t, I didn’t really realize how much curiosity that they had about my disability, I guess, because maybe as kids they’re raised to not ask questions. So, with not asking questions, maybe that limits their curiosity, but do you know, a ton of them raised their hands. And then I went into in 10, 15 minutes talk about my disability and shared how that impacts my life. And yeah, it was just, it was a really cool experience. I got a lot of great feedback from the, from the students and telling me what a great job that I did and how I was so brave and comments like that. They don’t, they don’t bother me, even though sometimes I may not feel like what I just did was a brave thing. You know, when I think of brands,

Karla Nelson:  Well, when you’re, when you do something well, though, Travis, honestly, in the, the thing that you’re most brilliant at will be the thing you’re like, eh, it was nothing sure. So interesting. That’s such human nature. I see it. And over again, it’s like, well, why does somebody think that’s so special up because you do it brilliantly and it’s super easy for you in the work that we do. We try to make sure that people work in there, you know, what we call peak work. Uh, but unfortunately only eight to 10% of most people’s day is doing that thing. That you’re brilliant, that you inspire people that you can do quickly. That gives you energy. We call it the zone. And then we trudge the balance of 90% of our day doing things that we don’t like, and we get distracted by social media or something else.

And so that’s interesting to say that because I hear that so frequently. And I think the other thing is just, Hey, when you go up there and you’re brave by default, people see themselves in your position. Right? And so, having that ability to break down that wall of, in what you’re talking about, the social inclusion, and I think it weighs somewhere in between that judgment and offense kind of thing. You know, it’s like, you don’t want to offend anybody, but you might be curious, but then you don’t want to be judged because you weren’t sure of how to tip toe in these waters. And I think this could be a conversation for, and you mentioned it, everybody has disabilities, depression, anxiety, bipolar. I mean, we could go on and on what are some of the tips because it’s important to support each other, look, your, your disability had you then have these meetings that built these relationships that really catapulted the dent that you want to put on the universe.

And I think you can apply that in a lot of different ways, but what would the, some of the tips be that, how can you then approach this scenario or a situation if somebody is depressed or if they’re talking, you know, how can they give, be the green light to be able to say, you’re going to talk about it, cause I’m not going to judge you, but I don’t, I’m curious, but if I can’t understand it, it’s, it’s harder to create that meaning and that relationship, right. To have both sides. What would some of the tips be that you could give individuals on both sides of that conversation? Right. Because you’re trying to empower those to be curious. Um, and at the same time, you probably understand from your perspective how something could be offensive because people, sometimes they, even if they don’t mean to be, don’t go about things in a certain way that makes this comfortable, you know, emotional intelligence aspect of it.

Travis Davis:  Yeah, you’re absolutely right. Um, when it comes to anxiety and depression, uh, you know, the, the mental health side of it is, is so, is so large and so complex that it’s, it’s difficult to tip toe around the, the, the topic, I think right now with the, our current situation with COVID where there’s a higher level now of individuals with mental health challenges,

Karla Nelson:  The numbers are staggering.

Travis Davis:  Yeah. I think that, I think the COVID is something that is, is what is uniting us right now. And it’s something that is relatable to all of us. You know, what I am going to, I’m going to try to connect this, um, to the physical and developmental disability side. When I, when I talk to students and I asked them why they may not ask somebody about their disability. And I get that, normally I get the answer, uh, well, we don’t want to offend anybody. And then I talked to them and I said, well, what could you do to ask them that wouldn’t be offensive,

Karla Nelson:  It’s always good to stick with questions, right. And ask permission. You know, I learned that long ago, I used to just hit, you know, I could be a bull in a China shop because I’d be curious about something, but even a little question like, Hey, I’m really curious about something. Can I ask you a question? And then having somebody say, what is it about? Um, and then moving from there for sure is that’s always good, um, to stay in the question. I like that.

Travis Davis:  Uh, so, you know, I, my background for a number of years was in the adaptive sport community that I grew up playing wheelchair basketball. And then as I got older, I realized that there was more than just wheelchair basketball. You have, uh, uh, sled hockey, uh, wheelchair tennis, uh, hand cycling, um, therapeutic horseback riding. So, you know, I introduced the students to all of these, all of these adaptive sports, and I’d say 99 to a hundred percent of the students I talked to, they don’t have any type of physical or developmental disability. So, when I talked to them and then they get like, get really curious about this. So then when I end it, and then I ask the question again, I said, well, how could you kind of go about talking to them about their disability? Then I say, well, you could ask them first if they’ve ever played wheelchair basketball or, um, uh, they’ve hand cycle, or they play wheelchair tennis.

Karla Nelson:  You’re finding that hometown question, right? It’s wearing the Chico Chico sweatshirt, then you have a commonality. And then, um, and then it makes it easier because you’re building the relationship first. That’s great. Ask questions, build a relationship first good stuff.

Travis Davis:  Yeah, it does. You know, it kind of does two different things, right? If, if they are, if they do those adaptive sports, then they get kind of happy that somebody else that doesn’t have a disability knows about it. They’re like, Oh, cool. You know, we have something in common, but if they don’t know about it, then I tell the students, well, then you just introduce them to a whole new world that they didn’t even know existed. And you probably connected them to a whole community of people that they didn’t know existed. So, you know, I really think that young students, young children are the ones that are really important to educate about disabilities. As I, you know, I tell them all the time, you guys are gonna grow up to be like presidents and CEOs and people in power that are going to be able to make decisions, whether you either hire somebody with a disability change policies. Yeah.

Karla Nelson:  Or are the one with the disability. For sure. Because we were talking about this, Travis is, you know, um, here locally, we have an entire organization it’s called Pride Industries and it’s specific to advocacy for Down’s Syndrome and they give them positions and get paid, um, great, very successful organization. And actually, one of my friends worked there and she just loved her. Um, clients is what they call them and because she manages the caseload to make sure that they have the appropriate position and job and make sure they’re, they’re doing well, but as business, as it relates to disabilities, right. Look how unique the perspective can be in. And if you’re advocating for somebody with a disability and, or you’re creating products for somebody with a disability, regardless of what it is, wouldn’t you want the perspective of the individual that has been on the other side of a building it.

It just like a lot of the new companies that build baby products are so much better because they put women leadership. Imagine that, um, so having that aspect, I think, and even the nonprofit side, right? Just like you, you were in a leadership position in that disabled student’s organization. I think that’s critical to have those individuals in those leadership positions. Uh, and I completely agree with you educating the younger individuals that will turn out to be those CEOs and business owners and leaders, uh, to then see that there’s, you know, that social inclusion, there can be so much that comes from it, um, to benefit everyone.

Travis Davis:  You’re wondering how to percent, uh, correct. You know, I think that the more that people can be educated about this topic, the easier it is to, you know, break down these, um, these doors and, and also, you know, the lack of leadership in the disability community, you know, it’s pretty staggering. I don’t have any specific data or stats, uh, behind it. Um, I know that the unemployment rate is twice as high for people with disabilities. Uh, but I don’t find at least here locally, a lot of, um, leaders or a lot of people, um, with disabilities in leadership positions, in disability organizations.

Karla Nelson:  Okay. And I think that does a couple different things. Number one, it’s just like the students that, you know, you, you inspire them because you are in that leadership position talking to them, then you’re willing to share. So, you’re breaking down that barrier of social inclusion on both sides and these amazing meetings lead to these great relationships that then allowed you to be in a leadership position. Right. You’ve done a TEDx talk. I just think this is absolutely an important, critical conversation for both any or any organizations, nonprofit for-profit government. Uh, and I think it does a lot of good all the way around, regardless if we’re talking about, um, business success, uh, nonprofit and, and advocacy, uh, success and, or, you know, government success, you were saying two times, um, or people with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed. Well, think about that. Cause I tell you what, at Pride Industries, those people love their jobs, right? And they might have down syndrome, but they come to work every day. The happiest people, when I was there, it was so much fun to be around him. I mean, they enjoy what they do. And, um, and I think this is a great, amazing conversation, Travis, that you can bring to not only the young students and the kids, but then, you know, businesses and organizations. And, um, so how can our listeners get ahold of you?

Travis Davis:  So, I have a website it’s just Travis davis.net. Um, let’s see, on my website, there are my, my links to my Facebook or my LinkedIn profile or my Instagram, you know, I tried to stay very active on LinkedIn just because of the amount of great connections and relationships that can be built.

Karla Nelson:  So true. I’ve met so many amazing people on LinkedIn, including you, you reached out to me, that’s how we met.

Travis Davis:  Yes, I, I reached out and, and you were, um, so gracious to give me the opportunity to speak on these topics today. And I just, I really appreciate you giving me time to, to talk about something that, you know, personally affects me

Karla Nelson:  It’s not an easy topic to talk about. And so, you do such an amazing job. We’re so excited to have you on the show here today and have you share this amazing Travis and, uh, all the best of luck to you in your advocacy and in your speaking and in your teaching, uh, and, uh, putting that dent on the universe, sir. Thank you for being on the show.

Travis Davis:  Thank you so much for having me.


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